By Suzanne Daley
Times Insider delivers behind-the-scenes insights into how news, features and opinion come together at The New York Times. In this piece, Suzanne Daley, an associate editor for international print, describes the unexpected perils of her recent reporting adventure in the Amazon: Surprising an illegal gold-mining ring turned out to be the least of her worries.
I braced myself when I realized the water was about to go over the top of my rubber boots. I had already spent hours working my way down a path in the Amazon jungle, traveling with Peruvian soldiers who were on a mission to close down illegal gold-mining operations.
“Take the step,” I thought to myself. “You have no choice anyhow. You can’t turn around now. And it can’t get much worse.”
I was wrong. Soon, I was in swirling water up to my armpits, and I heard one of the soldiers ask whether I knew how to swim. It would take us another six hours to get out of there.
None of this was part of my plan. My plan had been simple. Illegal gold miners were destroying Peru’s Amazon jungle. The government was intent on shutting them down. I would go on a ride-along, swooping into the jungle in a helicopter filled with government agents whose mission was to surprise the miners, destroy their camps and put them out of business. By night fall, the helicopter would have me back to a semi-decent hotel, hot water and a good bed.
I had pestered for months to get permission to see Peru’s efforts to halt the army of illegal miners that was already turning patches of the Tambopata reserve, one of the most biologically diverse places on earth, into toxic wasteland.
I wanted to see the fight up close, not just because such access is rare but because there is no substitute for being there. It offers an understanding that no amount of reading and talking with experts — or looking at detailed satellite photos — can make up for. It allows you to tell a story with a special kind of authority. Whatever the discomfort, it is usually worth the effort.
And yet sometimes you have little insight into what’s coming. The night before we were to go, photographer Tomas Munita and I got word that we would be traveling by road, mostly on motorbikes, and spending the night at a rangers outpost in a remote area along the Malinowski river.
Still, I thought, I was traveling with soldiers. What could happen?